I have a delicate situation at work. My immediate supervisor has me run all my proposals for new projects through her. I spend a lot of time and creativity on these ideas to improve the business. I see an area where we are lacking, and I propose a way to make things better, such as more convenient for customers, or a more efficient process. But these proposals are often rejected, and the reasoning seems flimsy. A few times I have taken a project for which I received a flat-out “no,” changed the proposal to fix the perceived problem, and have been given a totally different reason as to why the idea won’t work.
I’m trying not to get too attached to my work, but is there some kind of power struggle going on? She just doesn’t seem to want to invest in my ideas, and I have no idea how to respectfully address this with her.
THE FIRST ANSWER
Human resources executive, Atlanta
It is common to have ideas vetted through a manager and equally common to have them rejected. While the reasons may seem flimsy to you, your boss may have information about what works and what doesn’t that you do not. Your disappointment is understandable but don’t let it get in the way. Try different approaches.
Offer to buy your boss a coffee, discuss your desire to make a difference and ask for feedback on your ideas. Ask your boss if she has ever been “in your shoes” and how she handled it. You might gain insight as to how you can garner support for your ideas. Offer to help work on ideas that are important to your boss’s credibility.
Ask to be assigned to projects that other senior managers are leading, to get exposure to other decision makers. Seek out a mentorship and get yourself paired with a senior leader who works in an area of the organization where your ideas might be useful. Consider reading books or taking courses to develop your influencing skills and then test what you learn.
If you feel you have tried everything and nothing has worked in your current environment, change it. Find a job with a more innovative company.
Remember, many great ideas are met with rejection. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by Harper Collins, Penguin and Transworld. Sir James Dyson struggled for years to persuade people there was a better way to clean carpets. Now his vacuum out-sells key competitors by more than two to one. After being turned down by Parker Bros., Clarence Darrow went on to produce Monopoly himself.
Keep the faith, don’t give up and good luck with your big ideas.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto
A power struggle is pure politics, and politics is conflict without trust. Does your boss think you are gunning for her job? If so, you might want to pander to her insecurities to see if she changes (that thought might make you feel queasy, but such is the world of office politics).
Part of everyone’s job – like it or not – is to make the boss look good. If your supervisor is worried that you will show her up, you could try bringing her into the process more so that it becomes an idea from both of you. That might be less scary for her while ensuring you still get to be creative. She might then back off a bit.
Telling her “I’ve got an idea and I would love your input on it” might help her ego relax for a moment. After all, is getting half-credit for your ideas better than all of them going straight into the waste can? The smart people in the company will see that you’re the brains behind the ideas.
Have you discussed this with other people who report to your manager? Do they encounter the same issues? If so, how are they dealing with it?
Your creativity and enthusiasm would be a dream for most employers. Have a conversation with your boss, help her see the opportunity for her to look good, and if that doesn’t work then it might be time to dust off your résumé.
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